Gender stereotypes: a social construct overdue for change

As a senior psychology major, I am no longer surprised by the lack of male students in my classes. There seems to be an evident divide in genders in the social science majors in comparison with majors characterized as hard sciences, along with business and mathematics.

There are a ridiculous amount of gender stereotypes that exist in our society and the physical demarcation of gender differences within choices of studies at this college is an illustrative example of such stereotypes: that men are rational, reason-based thinkers who excel at math and science, while women are more intuitive and choose careers that are related to care-giving occupations such as social work and psychology.

Strict gender roles are established basically at the point of conception; as soon as a mother announces her pregnancy she is bombarded with questions regarding the sex of the unborn baby. Baby girls are automatically cuddled in pink flowered blankets while baby boys are dressed in football and soccer onesies. This socialization continues through childhood that perpetuates negative ideas about boys who are too feminine (sissies) or girls who are too masculine (tomboys). Finally, at adolescence, when children become most aware of differences, a shift occurs in which a rejection of traditional gender roles is seen as confirmation that a youth is "gay." Girls are considered to be dykes, boys are called faggots or fairies.

These strict gender roles and expectations are debilitating enough for heterosexual youth and young adults, but consider the negative impacts they may have on gay, lesbian or questioning young adults. There are abundant stereotypes about gays and lesbians, and the contradiction between someone's gender role, gender expectations, sexual orientation and gay stereotypes can most definitely lead to devastating conflicts regarding the acceptance of one's identity. College-age young adults are more likely than high-school teenagers to really accept and understand their identity. College is also often seen as the time that an individual has the chance to explore his or her sexuality. Although colleges are often seen as liberal and open communities, it's still worth it to consider the experiences of students who do not accept traditional gender roles.

Recently, I feel myself questioning my own preferences of clothing and behavior and wonder whether they can ever really be separated from socialization factors that have influenced my understanding of what it means to be a woman in a heterosexist and patriarchal society. I know personally that I feel both challenged by and admiration for individuals that I have encountered on this campus who seem to reject gender roles, whether it be intentional or not. In my human sexual behavior class, we learned that androgynous individuals often have higher adjustment and lower depression rates.

It is tiring and seemingly impossible to think of ourselves as distinct from the society in which we live. What's most important is to remind ourselves that because gender identity is a social construct, it is heavily influenced by a variety of factors, and that individual differences are inevitable. Therefore, in reality, there is no right or wrong way to be "male" or "female" and despite what we've been taught, the lack of an obvious gender identity may not necessarily be a negative thing.